Maxine Burkett, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hawaii and director of the Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy, spoke Wednesday about climate justice and climate-induced migration at Rose Hills Theatre.
In her talk, the first in the History Department’s Ena Thompson Lecture Series this semester, Burkett spoke on the challenges faced by members of less-developed countries, including issues that will be caused by rising sea levels over the next 40 years.
“Poor and minority communities face disproportionate risks from climate change, a problem they did little to cause,” she said. “Climate change is an issue that is especially significant for communities of color and poor communities within the United States and in the so-called ‘global South’ because these communities will most likely face the greatest burdens of climate change.”
She said climate change poses a significant threat to global development and threatens to provoke the largest human migration in history. She estimated that the overall number of “climate refugees” would be in the hundreds of millions.
Burkett also discussed the global and legal implications of climate change.
“Climate change means that there is no baseline,” she said. “The world is constantly going to be changing. What do you do about Tuvalu when there is no Tuvalu? These situations are going to shake the foundations of international law.”
Attendees were impressed and surprised at the way Burkett was able to re-frame the climate change debate.“The way in which she made the immediacy of climate change and its effects apparent was very compelling, especially regarding the issue of statelessness,” said Dani Carillo PO ’10. “I don’t usually think about countries that are going to disappear, and I’ve never really thought about her point that we need to redefine the basis of international law, but I think it’s really important to do so especially in terms of the radical shifts the world is facing in the 21st century.”